Archive | December, 2012

Israel on my mind – “The Footnote”

31 Dec

The other day I saw the Israeli movie ”The Footnote” again- what a great movie: complicated and off-beat storytelling, deep feelings and a Jewish world view almost old testament in tenor- at the same time as it was uniquely Israeli in its almost claustrophobic depiction of society and family. Of course, part of the reason for this feeling of claustrophobia had absolutely nothing to do with it taking place in Israel: most of the movie takes place in the halls of Israeli academia, in any country an inbred backstabbing-competitive claustrophobic environment if ever there was one.

But, what really fascinated me with the movie was its indirect and unintended depiction of where Israel is today. By this I mean that often, when I hear or read something current about Israel, no matter from which vantage point,  I get the feeling somehow of transition and impermanence, as if Israel, as a nation, a people, a culture is continually moving on to something else. Moreover its criticizers (especially in Europe) or worse its enemies (of which Israel has many, and here I don’t even include the Palestinians), are always wanting to discuss a future Israel totally different from the Israel that is here and now, today and in the near future.

In fact I have actually experienced a much more young and transitory Israel as early as 1952 (ok, I was a child then, but I do have my memories) and later in 1964. Unfortunately after 1964 there was to go over 40 years before I again was in Israel, and what then struck me almost the first day like a thunderbolt, was that here there was no feeling of newness, of a state and culture in its formative stage, a social and historical experiment, and no manifestation in what I saw and experienced that implied a transitory state of affairs: Israel was a fully developed unique state, society and culture: Jewish, yes, but it also something else, it is Israel. Whatever the tensions between the various groups in Israel (and they are many and very divisive) , Israel has achieved a synthesis of Jewishness, modernity,  and social customs into an all-encompassing  national culture,  in the same manner as its language Hebrew now has been transformed from what almost amounted to being an experiment to the flexible comprehensive language of the country: it had transformed itself into “Israeli”.

 Almost every scene and dialog  in “the Footnote” confirmed my own impressions. Everything in the plot, and every scene and dialog takes place against the backdrop of something that is a shared culture of everyday life based on common roots, values, myths, and ideas, and dramatic conflicts are played out in apposition to these.

A great movie.

 

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Lad retfærdighed ske fyldest

30 Dec

På vægen hos min tandlæge er der opklisteret en artikel hvis overskrift er ”Rygning påvirker helbredet” og hver gang spørger jeg mig selv  ”skal jeg holde op med at ryge eller skal jeg tværtom begynde at ryge igen” (det kunne også bare også være mit dansk, men…)

Nåh det er ikke det jeg vil skrive om, men om en avis artikel (Politiken d. 17 Dec.) hvis overskrift er ”Dommerne er blevet overflødige maskiner”, der går ud på at der dømmes alt for meget efter lovens bogstav i stedet for efter lovens ånd- så hvorfor har vi i det hele taget bruge for dommer – de kunne erstattes af robotter.

Forfatteren, der selv har været byretsdommer, skriver helt indlysende om hvor forkert det er kun at dømme efter lovens bogstav, og jeg må give ham ret i hvert at de tilfælde han nævner hvor lovens ånd er blevet tilsidesat til fordel for lovens bogstav, således at det der komme ude af det virkerede stik imod lovens hensigt. Smukt tænkt, tænkte jeg, lige indtil den tanke strejfede mig: men hvad hvis lovens ånd går imod den tiltalte? – dommeren havde kun cases med, hvor lovens ånd kommer den tiltalte til gode. Jeg kan forestille mig mange mange lande hvor lovens ånd i statens eller religionens eller ideologiens  tjeneste næsten altid går imod den tiltalte, og hvor den tiltalte havde været meget bedre tjent med at blive dømt efter det der faktisk står i loven.

Da jeg tænkte endnu mere over artiklen, så kunne jeg heller ikke lad være med at spørge mig selv: hvis lovens ånd er så indlysende, hvordan kan det være at de forskellige retsinstanser helt op til højesteret kan i den grad (og så ofte) modsige hinanden? Samt, efter min mening den vigtigste følgespørgsmål: Hvem skal så fortolke (bestemme) hvad der er lovens ånd hvis det ikke står skrevet i loven. Vi kan i hvert tilfælde ikke overlade dette til en tilfældig dommer- jeg kom til at tænke på de mange århundreds debat ud i det ekstreme, der forgår i Talmud (sådanne ca.= Jødernes lovbog) der vender og drejer hvert af guds love helt ud til det mest petitesse forestilling om eksempler på hændelser i henhold til lovens ord, i et forsøg på at presse dens ånd ud.

Til sidst kom jeg også i tanke på Viggo Hørups ord “Folketinget er den højeste Myndighed, der har ingen over sig og ingen ved sidenaf sig” og hvis det passer så er det faktisk forbudt dommere at dømme efter andet en lovens ord. Måske er det anderledes i de Anglo saksiske lande hvor loven er basered på sædvaneret, men her i Danmark så er det Folketinget det skriver loven og forklarer dens ånd i anmærkninger (i det mindste sådanne har jeg forstået det).

Mit første år i Udkants-Danmark

29 Dec

Jeg vil hilse og sige at det er ikke kedeligt herude i Udkants-Danmark, og det er i hver tilfælde ret så smukt—forleden dag sneede det  i vores lille  købstad, og der lå sne på gaden og alle de små huse med rød tegltag- det lignede grangivelig et Disney julekort. Den dag gik jeg sammen med en ven i skoven (skoven starter nærmest ved bygrænsen) for at score lidt gran, hvorpå, i henhold til Murphys lov, skovriderens kone kom kørende forbi, og først skældte hun os ud, men til sidst endte det med at hun ønskede os en god jul, hvorefter vi forlod skoven med rovet — kan i se det: midt i et veritabel snestorm på en øde skovsti, så kom hun lige netop forbi i det øjeblik vi kom lidt gran i en sæk.

Nå det var ikke det jeg ville skrive om men mit år i Udkants-Danmark.

Er på ”hilse” med alskens folk her i købstaden, og jeg har lige fundet ud at en af mine gode venner her i byen sad ved siden af min ny læge her gennem hel deres grundskole – han er lige kommet tilbage til byen efter mange års by-flygtighed, og første gang jeg gik til ham blev vi hurtig enigt om at her var det rart. Så er der min nabo ned af gaden der er over 80 år gamle, men har mange særprægede interesser, og hans hus er fyldt med opslagsværker og en pc midt i stuen. De flest jeg taler med går til så mange kulturelle og sportslige aktiviteter og er medlemmer af så mange foreninger, at jeg blive helt forpustet bare ved at tænke på hvor travlt de har det oven på arbejde, børn og børnebørn. Der er også flere kunstner og galleriejere her, hver med sin spændende historie, og de har hver for sig  valgt at bo her i Udkants-Danmark!

Nej folk her er ikke kedeligt, og de er også rare.

Ikke langt uden for byen ligger den gamle tosseanstalt (pragtfuld park lige op til skov og strand), og i gamle dage var halvdelen af byen ansat der, hvilket har medført en enormt stor tolerance for mærkelige mænd der taler (råber) med sig selv – jeg er altid dybt rørt over at se den udsøgt talmodige behandling de får af ekspedienterne i forretninger.

Byens sammensætning af ung og gamle, kvinder og mænd er også lidt speciel- der er mange mange enlige mænd i all aldre her i købstaden, og ikke mange enlige yngre kvinder. Som gamle antropolog så må jeg vide hvorfor, og det er måske fordi:

Der er i virkelighed begrænset muligheder for en person at realisere sig arbejdsmæssige og socialt her i købstaden:  vil man en uddannelse, karriere eller en spændende partner,  så må  (især) kvinder forlade byen og søge andet steds – i det nærmest storby eller København.  Det er en slags mandlig paradis for de mænd der er tilbage i byen: frihed til at være sig selv og gøre det man lyster, ingen kvindelig krav, mulighed for at mødes med andre mænd i mandlige aktiviteter i sport, jagt, at have en stor hund, drik mange øller ryge cigarretter eller en skæv, se fjernsyn. Godt nok er man kommet bage af dansen i samfundet og lever af tilfældig arbejde som arbejdsmand , eller  staten – i en større by vil man da pege af dem og kalde dem for tabere, men her in Udkants-Danmark så glider de bare ind i samfundet, og fred ved med det, og derfor er de også rare. For et stykke tid siden KL 10 om aften bankede det på min dør, og der ståede der tre store unge mænd – hvordan skal jeg beskrive dem: de vil kunne får rocker til at ligne nogle skvat – og spurgte ”undskyld men bor Jørgen her” og da jeg sagde at han boede i huset ved siden af, så sagde de ”God nat og vi undskylder meget at vi forstyrrede” og hele tiden var der en sære sødme i deres særdeles åbne ansigter – havde det været i København så havde jeg virkelige været bange. I øvrigt så tror jeg at Jørgen, som passer på mit hus når jeg ikke er hjem, ikke er en af byens bedste børn, men hvor er han dog sød og hjælpsom.

Jeg trives i Udkants-Danmark

 

I am special: the rules of society and the universe don’t apply to me

28 Dec

Some years ago I was standing on line at a Post Office in the USA  and I could see that behind the counter they were closing up for the day , when the man in front of me in the queue says, or rather shouts “Ah, be a mensch, don’t close on me “.

Having been trained as an anthropologist, this incident opened up a whole world of meaning for me:  the man in the queue took for granted that those behind the counter (who were clearly not Jewish) would understand his use of the word “mensch”, and the implied familiar relationship he thereby wanted to establish with them – he expected, no demanded, that they would dispense from their rules and not close the counter in his face and thereby, yes, behave like a mensch – like a human being and not as some sort of bureaucrat acting by rote.

Because that’s the whole secret of this proclamation – be a mensch – it is a challenge to the other in front of me not to behave as if alienated from me, not to treat me like a thing, a category, a case or stereotype, but instead, in this face-to-face situation treat me as me, an unique individual. Thereby, “you” will become or behave as a mensch. Or, as Martin Buber could have said it:  the man in the queue demanded of the post office employee that they together would stand in an “I and thou” relationship and not in an “I and it” relationship to each other.

This situation also for me demonstrated how we are continually attempting to refute the tendency in well-functioning societies that in the name of expediency and equality treats individuals as types and cases. We all want to live in a well regulated universe (read society) that is more or less predictable can be understood and treats us equitably  and fairly. We lean upon the laws of the universe whether they be expounded by physicist or theologians and the rules of society as contained in morals and ethics and manifested in the laws of the land. If this is not the case we then complain or are angry about corruption, nepotism,  haphazardly applied rules and regulations, impoliteness in social intercourse,  and earthquakes and tsunamis, cancer and sudden death.

Yet when these rules and practices of society or the universe go counter to our specific intentions, dreams, ideologies, or desires we refute them, expecting some form of personal dispensation: “Oh please God do not….”, or shout out “be a mensch”.

Aside

A xenophobe’s confessions

27 Dec

 

 

Image

 

For over a year  now I have had this poster in the kitchen put out by some anti-racist organization

It politically correct notes that here in Denmark I can go to a Turkish bath, learn African dancing, that my coffee comes from Brazil, my car is made in Japan, my cigar is Cuban, I take my vacations in Greece, my favorite rock group is British, our number system is Arabic, I eat Italian bread, and yet my neighbor is a foreigner in my eyes.

Every time I looked at it I silently said “yeah, that’s right”, until a few days ago when I really looked at it and inside my head I heard Tom Lehrer sing “National Brotherhood Week” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUwbZ9AlSPI ) and that just ruined it for me- couldn’t take its message seriously and when I started to think about it I found that its message is actually misleading if not wrong and counterproductive

If my own Danish culture is just an amalgam, it has no value in itself and is of no consequence: if my own origins have no validity I have no self-respect   – then how can I reach out to someone of another culture and respect them. All too often I have noted that Danes are very uncomfortable with their Danishness, denying that there is such a thing as a Danish people and culture, yet accepting that there are “foreigners” amongst us who are different– different from what then if we have no unique Danish culture? If we don’t accept that which makes us Danes, then how can we accept that which is them, foreigners.

Yes my neighbor is a foreigner, and I must accept and respect this difference, but what this poster is really saying is that it would be best if we could ignore this difference otherwise we will be considered a xenophobe or, god forbid, a racist – I am confused

If I ignore that fact I am doing both him and myself a disservice, and I lose both respect for him and myself – ignoring my neighbor’s foreignness won’t change the fact that he is foreign (or handicapped in some way, for example):  he is not like me and I must take that into consideration – his history and needs are not necessarily like mine.  This ignorance is manifested with the noblest intent “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. But, in fact if the foreigner, the other, is to be treated like I want to be treated, as an unique individual, I must accept and respect his difference and treat his also as an individual, and not as a stereotype. This implies that I must to some extent treat him differently than I would a Dane.

In as much as you both want to respect his difference and at the same time ignore it you are really saying that you want it to go away, and thus you really do not accept his difference. Both because you thereby neither accept your Danishness nor his foreignness.

“To thine own self be true” (Hamlet, act 1, scene III)

Aside

Denmark (my Christmas)

25 Dec

I enjoy Christmas, that is I enjoy a Danish Christmas, and though neither Christian nor a Dane I have for over 40 years gone irrevocably native and have taken upon myself a cloak of Danishness. Not as difficult as it may seem if you are a wandering Jew who is also an anthropologist. However what you are on the outside does not always match what (who) you are on the inside and the dissonance between them is not always easy to accommodate –neither for me nor for the Danes I am in contact with.

I have lived by the dictum contained in the following definition of culture: culture is what you need to know so that you can pass as a native – Christmas is the apotheosis of Danishness and I seem able to pass  – I know the everyday rituals and have the feeling for the ambiance everyone is supposed to partake in and enjoy .

Actually do think it  a misnomer to call the feast celebrated here in Denmark in the month of December for Christmas: Jul (“wheel”  of  time nature and the universe)  – remember Yuletide greeting” – is the proper name for this Danish celebration:  a heathen almost orgiastic celebration well known to the pre-Christian Vikings

Jul is when you eat and drink until you drop, consuming the results of the summer’s bounty at one big go, ward off the gathering darkness of winter and look forwards to the solstice that promises that there is a future when a harvest will again be possible

It is always much easier to enjoy and participate in an homegrown feast of overindulgence than any imported holy sacrament based on sophisticated ideas of goodness rebirth and the promises of a savior, who anyway in a few months when it is Easter will be mourned for his death.

But in  fact,  Danish Jul/Christmas is really a celebration of something much more here and now, and as such it is a very exclusive feast in which only the Danes can participate: Jul is an invention from the 19th century when Denmark lost a war and had to give up lands shrinking into the small homogenous country it is today and Jul  has become almost a founding myth of Denmark: it is the feast that commemorates an reinvents Danishness  and “hygge”- cosines, the hearth of home in which kith and kin belong and feel at home together. (more in my next blog)

(We) Danes are one of the oldest continuous and more or less homogenous and to some extent isolated group of people in Europe – almost everyone is related to everyone else and if not have friends or friends of friends in common ( everyone knows everyone at only 1 or 2 “degrees of separation” ( look it up on Wikipedia)t is therefore  a calm inclusive society  and its people friendly trusting and trustworthy ø- not a bad place to bring up your children.

(We) Danes know this for a fact and  therefore are really only at home with our own kind and if you want to be accepted you assimilate fully and without any reservations – Danes are xenophobes to  the hilt and they will only tolerate the guests amongst them if they are not guests anymore but have become  a Dane – they are not at all  racist:  if you act and believe like a Dane, then you have become a Dane ( only to a certain extent, of course) without prejudice.

So my having gone native means I know how to celebrate Jul, know the ritual, the songs , the foods, and understand and feel and participate in  the ambiance of Jul. I enjoy this feeling of inclusiveness of those who are one of us and exclusiveness towards those who are not us – perhaps it is my Jewishness that is thereby trans morphed into my Danishness.

Jul is the great feast that lasts a month where Danishness in a form of  sentimental  good old days of Christmas is manifested, re-invented and reconfirmed -this has nothing to do with either the Vikings or the birth of Jesus thais is pure  celebration of Us through lots of eating and importantly drinking at office Christmas parties Christmas parties at various sports and other associations Christmas eve with the family – and only the family  (always a problem who is invited will come and who is/will not)– the next two days Christmas dinners and lunches and then the finality of new year’s eve where this overindulgence in meat and meat products the traditional new year’s eve fare consists of fish (and I don’t want to get into the symbolism of that)

It is a hectic time because as all for every ritual, everyone  wants to get it right down to the smallest details (especially women feel the responsibility) – there should be no recriminations that ”we ”did not have a proper or good Jul, and in as much as almost everyone from the queen down to her lowest subject knows (with some variations) how a proper Jul is to be celebrated this should be easy, but it isn’t: there will always be variations, dissent, family squabbles, personal problems,  economic worries and recriminations – all peoples all over the world know these when planning their feasting and celebration from Thanksgiving, to Passover: what, how and who become almost insurmountable existential problems. Not to mention the many people who have not been invited somewhere on the eve of Christmas, Jule aften, the Christmas dinner, ritualized and celebrated as it should be, “just like always”.

So let me enjoy a 2012 Christmas, Hanukah, Id, Diwali

21 Dec

Let me enjoy Christmas please – let me enjoy Hanukah please – let me enjoy Id please – Let me enjoy Diwali please!

 I know everything was much better in the old days and much cheaper and much much less materialistic – we were satisfied with a present of a pair of hand-me-down woolen socks and some seldom eaten sweets when celebrating these religious festivals while in the midst of our warm and loving near and dear ones.

 Today Christmas is all about rush and bother and money – expenses and extravagances – tinsel and plastic – while we alienated citizens of the big town in a global world celebrate them together with strangers.

 The whole town is (wonderfully) lit up just so that we should buy more and more (unnecessary?) delicacies and presents.

 And I love it!

 The year is 2012 – is it not? And the good old days are long long gone – any talk of the good old days always reminds me of a Monty Python sketch full of over the top impossible memories of the good old days – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13JK5kChbRw – which for the majority of “ordinary folks” were perhaps not really so good.

 We are richer than ever today and our little private household economies are much more interdependent as part of the great global economy – if no one bought any delicacies and presents most of us would directly or indirectly be in dire economic straits.

 We have lights and TVs and computers and smart-phones, and they all bring us somehow in contact with each other and everyone else in this festive season.

 I live in Denmark and the sun gets up at about 8:30 and goes down about 4 in the afternoon – not that we see much of the sun in that short period, as it is almost always dreary and cloudy.

So why not try bring some cheer to ourselves and each other – isn’t that what these holidays each in its own way celebrates: that though the darkness of winter approaches there is light and the deity is with us.

 And finally as an anthropologist I have learned that all over the world from time immemorial people have celebrated their deities by splurges and extravagances to the hilt, and may there be no tomorrow – no one wants to be shamed as a cheapskate derelict in his devotion.

 So let me enjoy a 2012 Christmas, Hanukah, Id, Diwali